Turning a hall into a home
Habitat for Humanity, veterans join forces in laborious task of overhauling Burrillville eyesore
BURRILLVILLE — A dormant gathering hall that’s been an eyesore on Wallum Lake Road for nearly 20 years became a hub of activity on Saturday as Habitat for Humanity West Bay and Northern Rhode Island partnered with armed forces veterans for a “Veterans Build Day.”
Gary Lefrancois, president of Habitat for Humanity West Bay and Northern Rhode Island, explained that over the years, a number of businesses tried to acquire the property but ran into zoning issues that wouldn’t allow it to happen. Habitat for Humanity, though, was even- tually able to purchase the parcel with plans to renovate the long-vacant single-story cinderblock building into a single-family home.
The project takes about six months to complete, with volunteers and members of Habitat for Humanity working every Saturday, but completion of the project will be delayed until they have a family for the home. Lefrancois explained that’s because homeowners are required to put in 300 hours of “sweat equity” in converting the hall into a home, as Habitat owns the land but the home has a zero interest rate mortgage and no down payment.
The hall will receive a new
roof and windows as it’s converted into a three-bedroom, one-bathroom 1,500-squarefoot home. Lefrancois said this is “one of the bigger ones” that Habitat for Humanity has taken on.
“It required some extra work.”
Most notable among the work was that ceilings were 13 to 14 feet high – “monstrous,” as Lefrancois put it – so workers had to lift the floor to meet eight-foot ceiling heights, which Lefrancois said are more customary and reduces the need for additional heating.
Also, with the building made of cinderblock, workers on Saturday were “rimming” the walls with two-by-four studs to install insulation and sheet rock between the interior walls and the exterior cinderblock.
Amy Gates, vice president of Habitat for Humanity West Bay and Northern Rhode Island, explained that Saturday’s project was part of Habitat’s “Veterans Build” program, which seeks to provide homeownership, critical home repairs, employment, and volunteer services to veterans, service members, and their family.
Gates said that when veterans return from active duty, there’s traditionally a 30-day “honeymoon” period where everything is fine, but after that, some find themselves in need of a purpose to keep their minds busy. Thus, the program allows them to understand “they have a place” and helps reintegrate them back into society, Gates said.
When she sees the trans- formation of the hall into a home, Gates says she’s impressed.
“At first, it was looking like nothing but to see it progress and see a home to completion, it’s getting to come together … When veterans get involved, people feel so much passion,” Gates said.
Lefrancois, meanwhile, said that they “take great joy in seeing the family more involved. We stay connected for years to come. If they need a fix or expand, they can come to us … We don’t just walk away from a home.”
With Saturday being Veterans Day, the build took on even more significance with most of the volunteers being veterans themselves, Gates said.
“It’s a way for them to connect with each other and build relationships and share their stories to ultimately come together,” Gates said.
Richard Trabing of Uxbridge works inside the home on Wallum Lake Road.
The interior, top photo, and exterior, above, of the property being overhauled at Wallum Lake Road.